S3 E74 Film Reviews: iClone Shorts & Machinima Final (April 2023)

Phil Rice 00:09
Hello and welcome to And Now For Something Completely Machinima podcast about machinima, virtual production and related technologies. I am here with my virtual co hosts, Tracy Harwood and Damian Valentine, and would not with us this week as Ricky, but we're going to be talking about some films that Ricky had picked, in case he was able to make it this month. And Tracy's going to introduce those for us. Two very interesting, very difficult, different picks. So, Tracy, go ahead. Sure. Well,

Tracy Harwood 00:39
Ricky, sorry, you're not here to talk about these. He's, he's picked for us to really interesting films, both short. Both appear to be test projects, and neither have compelling titles, but actually, they're quite different, really, in many ways. One is a student project. And the other is clearly by a professional. And we're going to, you know, we'll talk about these both both together, I think, but I'll start by talking about machinima final, the first one the student project, and then go on to the next one. So Machinima Final by Sydney Walker was released on the 10th of February. It's been made in Final Fantasy 14, and it's a fairly rough and quite naive machinima for me, but what I like about it is the opening scene, which uses the idea of sort of jumping between worlds and not really knowing where you are, I think it kind of sums it up for me, I'll always actually, the story is primarily told through narration, and that narration is intriguing because it's reflecting on real life and using the game work to provide a kind of analogy for that. And it's not unlike, in many ways, what we saw with David Blandys how to fly, which we reviewed a couple of months back, I think there's June last year, actually. And also, Kristian Andrews, let's play Nomad x that we reviewed last month, where they're both sort of reflecting as they're kind of playing the game, so to speak. But you know, the, the reflection isn't necessarily connected to the game context. So this is a quite an intriguing approach there. There are some sound mixing challenges with this. But generally speaking, I think it's got the basis and quite interesting ideas. It's a little thin on story. The animation is quite old school compared to some of the other work that we were seeing now such as the Half Life project that we're going to be looking at next week that Phil picked, and also the Astartes Project, the Warhammer 40k project that we reviewed last time. But as a start a project, it's good effort. And I would certainly encourage Sydney to, to develop the work further. And as Ricky says, and what he wanted me to say is that, although he's not here with us today, he did want to sort of congratulate the student for sort of working with machinima and is very keen on hearing what else she produces in future. So I think it's a great starter project, we're assuming it's a starter project. And we're, we're kind of looking forward to the next sort of level of development of that. Which is, which is really cool. The second one that Ricky picked is clearly a different ballgame altogether, this is a seems to be very much a more professional approach. Now, it's not got a compelling title, as I said at the beginning is, it's called iClone shorts. And it's by just art animation studios, and it was released on the 25th of February. And this one is basically a Character Creator test, as far as I can tell. But it's actually a lot more than that. And what I like about this is the kind of psychological thriller-horror lens that's been put on this, it really is quite compelling. With this sort of scene of a person strapped in a chair in a room, they're there for a reason. They're a zombie or some kind of horrid creature that's going to attack others, presumably. But they're, the person is in this place where there are others and the others obviously don't know the true story. And I guess everybody can imagine where that leads. And, of course it does. But in some really unusual ways. I think the sound design, the way that it's presented, is really interesting. It's quite scary overall. I'm not sure if it's reminiscent of a well known film. This is as everyone knows, it's not really my sort of thing, the heart of the horror genre, and this definitely fits that. From my my point of view, I'm sure Ricky would have said a lot more about where it's come from and what the storytelling basis of it Is there is no narrative to it. There's soundscape design, which is incredibly well done. I certainly wouldn't recommend watching it late at night. And I'd say Character Creator, well, I think this guy did a really good job with using that tool to showcase it. So, so really very, very well done on that. I think it needs a title. I don't know what the title will be. But it needs something. It's definitely worth something, putting putting over it and badging it because it's great. I think it is worth also mentioning that this the film is actually by a Nigerian creator called BennyDee or Benjamin Dazhi, who has some animation chops, he animated and directed the Cartoon Network's Dance Challenge series in 21. And he's also the creator of Warlord animated series, which is pretty impressive as well. He's also run masterclasses on iClone for Reallusion, which is definitely kind of worth tapping into. And I haven't seen an awful lot of creative work that he's created beyond that. But I think it's this sort of work that he produces, it's definitely worth tapping into. definitely enjoyed it. What did you think, guys?

Phil Rice 06:22
I gotta go ahead. I'll start with during contest go.

Damien Valentine 06:27
I'll start with the horror one. It was a very dark and unsettling film and it shows you can do some twisted stuff with iClone. I like that you don't really get any answers to it. You've ot the situation, you see what happens but you don't really know why, who the characters are, or what's really going on. I think that makes it even more unsettling. Its a case of we were talking about it a couple of weeks ago where we didn't know the Warhammer world but this time not knowing works because it makes this very creepy and sinister and I think the creator knew exactly what he was doing when he did that. It is a very impressive resuslt. I agree with Tracy, it does need a title because iClone Shorts, iClone, Reallusion isn't really a good name for it, so please give it a title so we can call it something better than that. I would be interested to see what else he can do as well. I don't know whether he's going to continue this story, or whether he has another story in mind, but this is a very good example of what iClone can do. I'll move on to the other one. I don't think we've ever seen a machinima made with Final Fantasy 14.

Phil Rice 08:15
before. I agree. I think that's correct.

Damien Valentine 08:19
I know it's an MMO in that Final Fantasy series, my knowledge of Final Fantasy is a little bit greater than Warhammer. I've played Final Fantasy 8 and I really enjoyed that my understanding is each game has its own world, its own characters, but they have similar themes to them. And 14 is the MMO the second MMO in the Final Fantasy series, I have a friend who plays it quite a lot, but I don't I don't know too much about it. So it was interesting to see Sydney use that game, it's obviously something she plays because it's she's set this story in that in that world. And she's used the game that she's very familiar with to tell the story that she wanted to do for her projects. And us I think that's how we all got started making machinima we had a game that we really enjoyed. And we started thinking what can we do this creatively and she decided to do that as a student projects and I can come I can very much relate to that because my very first machinima projects was also when I was a student and I took it into by the into the class when I finished the first episode and got raised some and interest from the the lectures at the university. So you know this is it's good to see other people doing the same thing. I'm very interested to see what Sydney will you know, this this is a first project is it's an excellent first start. I want to see what you're going to do next. You know, make more machinima use Final Fantasy 14 or any other game that you enjoy playing, think about how you can use those games to tell more stories, because you've got the talent and the ideas for your storytelling. And it'd be nice to see more of that. So please continue Sydney.

Phil Rice 10:15
Yeah, seeing seeing a film in, I guess what I would call this kind of an embryonic embryonic stage for a filmmaker, right, you know, all these different elements that we talk about that are related to production and design and story and all that. But when you strip all those away, what's at the core? Well, it's usually using these visuals that you can generate, using a game usually, right? As metaphor. I'm Tracy, you highlighted that, that that's, especially in that early, early scene that there was a sense of, you know, other worldliness or, you know, being moved to other worlds, I think is I can remember how you phrased it exactly, but, and then juxtaposing that with her narration of kind of feeling like, what's my place? Where am I at, you know, it's, that's beautiful, you know, it's, it, it doesn't have to be sophisticated in the way that unexperienced producer might use the word sophistication, you know, this is this is, this is stripped down, this is ultimately what she's, she's doing this, she's attempting to do the same thing that every single film we've ever reviewed, is attempting to do. And that's using these visuals generated from some platform to convey an idea. And it doesn't have to be a story, per se, as much as I love story. And I tend to always rate stuff on here by story story story. I think it's because I see that there's such, there's always been such great potential for storytelling with this. But the story doesn't have to be narrative structure, you know, it can just be more in the form of, you know, that's like criticising poetry and saying, Well, this time do not. Where's the story? You're missing the point, you know, and I think that if I were to evaluate or criticise this film saying, well, there's not, there's just no story structure. I'm, I've lost the plot, you know, that's not that's not what this is. This is poetry. This is metaphor. This is expression. And, yeah, that's, that's, that's awesome. So I hope also that, that she creates more, because I think that, you know, just the fact that she went into this world of Final Fantasy. And this idea came to her to use it in that way. That's, you know, that's what filmmakers are made up of, you know, in the very same sense as some guy walks down the street in in, in New York, and gets inspired for a particular scene or whatever, you know, that's, that's this just virtually so. Yeah, I I'm jealous. I wish that this Tech had been around when I was in school, because I totally would have done this as a project or school, something like this, you know, and mine probably would have looked very similar to this something that 20 years later, I would go well, that seems pretty primitive. Yeah. But so what, you know, my early work was really primitive, really, really primitive, you know, so it's, it's, it's a place to start. And it's and it's, there's a beauty to it. That it's not, it's not been overcomplicated by all the things that that Damien has to worry about when producing an episode of his Star Wars series. You know, there's, there's no luxury of just well, let's just express this idea of, of this character from Heir to the Empire. No, you can't do that.

Damien Valentine 14:06
I do miss the days when it was much easier. Right.

Phil Rice 14:09
Yeah. So yeah, I think that's, I think it's great. And I don't know, it kind of makes me excited my kids about to go off to college, to university and maybe he'll get inspired to do to do something like this to you know, to dip his toe into visual expression with these tools that are just readily readily available. So yeah, I want to thank you both because I confessed to you before we started I was kind of struggling with with what to say about this film, because we're so used to evaluating stuff with with heavier production value, you know, and I didn't want to be a prick. So thank you because you just your your your comments, leaving us Often that really got me thinking about this in a in a different way, and I'm being sincere, I really do feel this way about it. So that's great. Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, I

Damien Valentine 15:11
think I was gonna say our next thread is Sydney used Final Fantasy 14 as the platform. But a video isn't about the world of Final Fantasy 14, it's just a way to, it's a platform to tell the idea that she's got, it's not about that, well, we've seen lots of videos in World of Warcraft, where it's very much about them, well, the Warcraft or Star Citizen videos, all these other MMOs the videos tend to be about the world that the game that takes place in. And this is different. This is just a tool to express an idea. And I think that's something to be admired as well.

Phil Rice 15:49
That's a great point too Damian, because if you've played a Final Fantasy game, you can't play the game and not learn something about that game's lore. It's a story driven game, you know, I mean, it, it's an RPG at its heart. But I mean, it's their story to it, that it's, those games have always been that way. For 20 something years, they've been making these games, and they're always that way. So it's not that she wasn't exposed to the story or didn't know the story of the game. But it just didn't occur to her. That wasn't what inspired her. That story wasn't what inspired her. She had a story of an idea. And saw it as a platform. Yeah. And that's, that's great. I wish more people would I wish as many people would do that as do the other which is they really get they really get psyched about the game world, which is completely understandable because there's some really, really, really talented storytellers in the video game industry. Some of them, you know, just as talented as the top Hollywood people, in my opinion, there's there's some incredible story going on in games. So yeah, yeah, that's that's a great point. I mean,

Tracy Harwood 17:00
what about everything?

Phil Rice 17:01
Yeah, Ricky. Ricky's picked number two. I hate to keep referencing Oh, well, we were talking about before we started recording, but we were talking about before we started recording that I've kind of recently I'm a late bloomer in growing affinity to horror, which I'm sad Ricky isn't here this week to hear me say that because he would be just delighted. By but, so this was just right up my alley, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's psychological horror, you know, really, really well produced. And Damien, you're you hit the nail on the head for me, which is there's an ambiguity surrounding the story. There's unanswered questions here. A couple of weeks ago, we were talking about Astartes Project. And I mentioned that it bugged me that I felt I felt uprooted. I didn't. I felt lost it. I was very conscious of that as I watched. And in this, the ambiguity didn't make me feel that way. And I've been been pondering Well, why is that? And I think it does come down to that this has some moorings in excuse me, that she has some moorings in recognisable experience. And I think maybe I mentioned that during Astartes too that, you know, these are, these are archetypes of characters that we recognise, we may not know what this specific situation is. But we know what a messy presumably Mental Hospital we know what that that setting looks like. And, you know, someone who is being medicated presumably against their will and maybe is a little dangerous until they've been medicated. That's, that's a metaphor that we've seen many, many, many times. Now, most of us not through any personal experience, through through the cinema experience. We recognise that and so the fact that those questions aren't answered to me, that's why this didn't didn't bug me is because, okay, I get it. I know. I know enough about where we are and what's happening here to go on this, this little journey with you. Yeah, and that's, that's, that's important basically, whereas Astartes Project was relying on moorings from the game world, the game lore, this relies on on moorings from the entire cinematic universe, you know, this is this is essentially this is a form of the cinematic language this painting things with this brush, you know, with this idea and you can do that more safely because more people are going to visually relate to that idea as soon as they see it. So I don't know if the filmmaker was probably wasn't sitting there being rude. We're conscious about that. These are things that we do kind of intuitively when we're cinephiles. But yeah, just wonderfully done. The rendering was really cool. I liked the the use of reflections and the characters were just extraordinary. There's a couple scenes in particular, that just really were impactful. There's, there's one point where the woman who's in the patient gives this like, full bodied, full throated scream, you know, and her mouth just wide open, just just screaming like that, and just the angle that he chose for the shot and the slight effect put on it and the expression on her face, you know, it wasn't early days of AI clone, it was remarked upon that the, you know, they've got dead eyes, or they're just not fully expressive. It's like somebody who's had too much Botox or something, you know, and they can't fully lift their eyebrows or something. And boy, he made sure that the, the full, he went the full length of the sliders for the different morphs right to get just so many different looks out of these faces. That's that's Character Creator, if you don't know. That's what Character Creator one of its strengths is the ability to, to do that to to shape the body in particular ways. And to Morphett. They're rigged character creator characters are rigged, to be able to morph in increasingly impressive ways, every new release of that, that aspect of iClone is, is just more and more impressive, more more. Well, I don't want to say it's more more realistic. It can be if it's used in that way, but it's more and more expressive, because you can do it very cartoonish. But the range of expression is is impressive. And the way that he used it in this was was, was just terrific. So was it perfect? No, absolutely not. It's a little bit rough around the edges at points. But I don't know, I didn't mind. I can't say that it didn't, I didn't notice because I I've made films and so I, I can't unsee that stuff, you know, it's I wish I could sometimes just turn it off. But it didn't. It didn't take me out of the out of the moment of the story. It was it was interesting. And this is one of those where, even though there's all that cloud of ambiguity around this little capsule of a story, it's a capsule of a story that it made me as a storyteller think, Oh, I could see taking that capsule and placing it in this context. And, you know, to put the before and after what what the, the wider story is, or over here and this one? That's, that's pretty cool. You know, that's, that's, it's, it takes a unique set of skills to craft something that's transplantable like that, you know, so I enjoyed it a lot. What I would recommend to the Creator because some people are just not title makers. Because, you know, this person is clearly very, very creative. But maybe it's just his Achilles he doesn't. He's not good at coming up with titles. Well, crowdsourcing, come on, you know, if you can't then throw it out there to your, your fan base, small or large? Because there's people out there who don't have your filmmaking skills. But a really good at

Tracy Harwood 23:32
Oh, Phil. Oh, a number.

Phil Rice 23:37
Yeah. Yeah, that's true. That's true.

Tracy Harwood 23:41
What was yours call?

Phil Rice 23:42
917. Yeah, of course, that was from the source texts. We kind of cheated there. But yeah, no, we're not. Sometimes at least something to make it. I'll tell you the the big disadvantage of using a number. Not great when it comes time to try and find it in search engines. You name in your film film. Yeah, yeah. Not not not great in that regard. So you want to be practical with it. It needs to be a little bit unique, but it doesn't have to be complicated. But I mean, if you look through the if you listen to any modern music at all, you are following any bands? I'll bet you could name a band in your collection where you go out and that's a great song, but these guys really don't know how to name songs. You know, Eddie Vetter is just a brilliant musician, vocalist, lyricist. Naming songs is one of the one of their songs is like an elderly woman at a downtown Cafe sitting at a stool. It's like, Dude, what are you doing? And that phrase isn't even in the song. So, anyway. Yeah, just, I don't know if it were me, I would probably be inclined to crowdsource it. There's a guy that I follow on. Excuse me, the guy that I follow on Facebook. On a group of it's all just people who play piano like me and, you know, other people. And everyone, everyone, some people will post what they've played or what they're composing right now. And then others get to comment on it, whatever. And there's just one guy who, Dmitri who comes on there and say, I'm working on this, but I have no idea what to call it. What does it make you feel? And I mean, the the breadth of responses that he gets, it's like, it's like a full. I don't know, he's using it like an AI prompt. Almost, you know? Except it's people break down. They'll just descriptively tell him what it what it makes him feel and I'm sure he has no trouble come up with the title after that. Yeah, those kinds of ideas are interesting. Yeah. Anyway, I Yeah. So very interesting picks Ricky, Has everyone gotten to to weigh in? Yeah. Do we all talk? Okay. I'm kind of starting to lose my voice. So plenty

Tracy Harwood 25:57
of times. Yeah.

Phil Rice 26:01
Okay, well, that is Ricky's picks. And we will see you next time for a Half Life 2 movie that I've picked. So Ricky, Tracy, Damien. Thank you very much. We'll see everyone next time.

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